Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Bernadette Fox isn’t your average suburban helicopter mom. After a short but brilliant career as an architect, she has settled down with her teenage daughter and husband in a Seattle suburb, increasingly agoraphobic and aware that her eccentricities might be consuming her. When her daughter, Bee, proposes a trip to Antarctica, it seems like the beginning of the end for Bernadette and she disappears without a trace. It’s up to Bee to track down her mother, her best friend, and bring her back home.
An adorable book that centers on the mother-daughter relationship, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a smart and funny novel. Readers will love the strange premise, the unique format (it’s mostly told through reports, letters, and emails), and the acceptance that Bernadette and Bee are both seeking, and find, within one another.
Cute. Sweet. Delightful. If you’ve heard anything about Where’d You Go, Bernadette, you’ve probably heard these words, so it was with trepidation that I picked it up. I don’t normally like cutesy reads, plus I was afraid that I’d heard too much hype about it. That it couldn’t live up to my expectations (though, in truth, I didn’t really know what to expect—just that everyone seemed to love this book.) But I finally gave it a chance, and I discovered just why everyone has been gushing about this book: it is indeed THAT good.
First of all, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is funny. Semple, though Bernadette, pokes fun at suburban mom culture. Bernadette doesn’t fit in, and that should be okay. It should be acceptable to be different, and yet Bernadette is ostracized and attacked by the school and her fellow moms. Bernadette takes it all in stride, lobbing insults right back at them, and it’s amusing to read. It’s also provides a sharp social commentary that readers looking for something more in their reads will appreciate.
Semple also focuses on Bernadette’s many social issues in Where’d You Go, Bernadette. She has agoraphobia, anxiety, and quite possibly a whole host of other social issues that make her unable and unwilling to participate in “normal” situations. Semple presents them in an entertaining, yet compassionate, way. Readers will really feel for and sympathize with Bernadette; no one except Bee takes the time to really get to the root of her issues. They just write her off as someone weird, when really, she needs help. It’s this mother-daughter relationship that is really at the heart of the novel, and it’s lovely to read about.
The format of the book—letters, emails, reports, and more—means that Where’d You Go, Bernadette is very easy to read. It goes quickly, as Bee uses this correspondence and other materials to figure out exactly what happened to her mother. I’m not going to reveal any more, as much of the joy in this book is in going along for the ride to find Bernadette, but I’ll say this: This is the rare novel that actually lives up to the hype and is absolutely worth reading. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a smart, sharp, and funny novel that has a huge heart.
Other books by Maria Semple: